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Wax Argument Descartes

By Neuro10 May 05, 2013 879 Words
“Wax Argument”:
Rene Descartes was an extraordinary philosopher who introduced a new, obscure, way to understanding the difference between the mind and the body. Descartes’ argument seems to be directed to Aristotle, in order to counter Aristotle’s “sensory argument;” in which everything is a conclusion of the senses. Descartes uses the “wax argument” to distinguish between the mind and body, separating the mind into its own form. The use of wax allows Descartes to prove and make his point because the, shall we say, properties of the wax can be easily altered; changing its physical appearance. “Let us take, for example, this piece of wax: it has been taken quite freshly from the hive, and it has not yet lost the sweetness of the honey which it contains; it still retains somewhat of the odour of the flower from which it has been culled; its colour, its figure, its size are apparent; it is hard, cold, easily handled, and if you strike it with the finger, it will emit a sound” (Descartes 283-86). At first, the properties of the piece of wax are “obvious,” but this is basically where Descartes starts to prove his argument. All the senses are present, sound, taste, smell, touch, and vision. As described, its physical appearance is what helps distinguish what it is, so what he does is completely change what is, at first, described through the senses. “Notice that while I speak and approach the fire what remained of the taste is exhaled, the smell evaporates, the colour alters, the figure is destroyed, the size increases, it becomes liquid; it heats, scarcely can one handle it, and when one strikes it, now sound is emitted” (Descartes 287-90). In nearing the fire, he proves that the senses are not to be trusted due to the fact that now they have all changed, but yet it is still the same piece of wax. Descartes is basically trying to say that we still know it’s a piece of wax due to our “intellect.” This is where he is distinguishing between the mind and the body because we know what we know through our mind and not through the senses. “What most particularly be observed is that its perception is neither an act of vision, nor of touch, nor of imagination, and has never been such although it may have appeared formerly to be so, but only an intuition of the mind” (Descartes 314-16). Our “intellect” is what allows our mind to perceive and make the conclusion that it is still a piece of wax; no matter how much its form is altered our mind will make the same conclusion. When forming a conclusion or assumption using only the senses, then each time it would completely change forming something new each time; our mind does not allow that. “When looking from a window and saying I see men who pass in the street, I really do not see them, but infer that what I see is men, just as I say that I see wax” (Descartes 325-26). Descartes is saying that our mind works on its own and allows us to think and make the assumption that no matter what we see, taste, smell, hear, feel our mind will come up with a conclusion; allowing the thought process to react and build upon what we already know. “I can nevertheless not perceive it thus without a human mind” (340). Descartes is trying to separate the mind from the body and I believe that he should have spent more time focusing on how they work together rather than depicting one from the other. Through Descartes argument, I have come to understand that our mind is unique in every way and has the ability to perceive and learn far greater than one can imagine. Descartes is not wrong for embracing the human mind to be the way we perceive, but I believe that our senses also play an important part in the way we perceive. Our senses allow the mind to establish a fundamental basis from which to build upon, without them we lose the ability to function through everyday life. For example, take a man’s ability to see, smell, hear, taste, and feel then he loses the ability to think; making him no different than an random inanimate object. Each sense serves its own purpose and without them we might as well create our own individual worlds in our heads and never see reality. The reason we know we exist is due to the fact that we know we are here going through each step in life, just as much as the piece of wax paper exists; we do as well. Descartes knew that no matter what he did to the wax, our mind would always perceive it the same, but how did he know that it was wax to begin with? He used his senses to establish a basic outline to what it was. No matter what he said or did to the wax, it still remained a piece of wax. Science today is based off of our observations and experiments and I strongly believe our senses play as big as a role as our mind; they work together as one.

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